A young gay artist has avoided deportation to his native Nicaragua, almost four years after a federal tribunal denied his asylum application on the grounds there wasn't enough evidence to prove he was homosexual.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada on Wednesday granted Alvaro Orozco, 25, permanent resident status after reviewing an application requesting he be allowed to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds.
He was due to be deported Thursday to Nicaragua, where homosexuality was illegal until 2008.
"I feel like my head is going to explode, very very excited. Even now sometimes [I'm] still shaking," Orozco said.
He said it's been tough waiting so long for this decision.
"I faced so many obstacles. And it was hard for me because I wanted to go to school, to have an education, to be free, to feel safe and to be openly gay."
Orozco first came to Toronto in 2005 after a lengthy journey from his home country where he fled at age 12, and only has a Grade 6 education.
He hitchhiked across Central America, lived in Mexico, and then illegally entered the United States by swimming across the Rio Grande.
Officials arrested him and sent him to a detention centre, where he spent a year behind bars before he was released on a promise to return to Nicaragua. But again he fled, first to a church, then to Canada in 2005.
Orozco claims he was forced to flee Nicaragua because of the laws against homosexuality. He also says his father beat him and threatened to kill him because of his sexual orientation.
An Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator denied his refugee claim application in 2007, questioning whether Orozco was indeed homosexual since he never chose to pursue same-sex relationships while in the U.S.
Orozco had stayed in Canada illegally since then.
His supporters held rallies and lobbied politicians calling for him to stay in the country.
One of those supporters, Suhail Abualsameed, called Wednesday's decision an "amazing, joyous moment."
Orozco, for his part, said he is relieved he can live a normal life in Toronto. He hopes to go to high school, and then to university in pursuit of a career as an architect.